Will Kia's New Electric Soul Succeed?

The Korean automaker is bringing some Soul to the electric-car party.

Mar 15, 2014 at 2:15PM

Images

The Kia Soul EV is expected to arrive at U.S. dealers soon. Photo credit: Kia Motors

Despite the flashy success of Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA), battery-electric cars haven't exactly taken the world by storm. 

But that hasn't stopped automakers from Nissan (NASDAQOTH:NSANY) to Ford (NYSE:F) from offering electric cars to the public, with varying degrees of success. 

Now comes word that Kia Motors (NASDAQOTH:KIMTF) is joining the battery-electric party. Its new Soul EV will be the first electric Kia to hit our shores -- and represents a different strategy than that taken by Kia's corporate cousin Hyundai (NASDAQOTH:HYMTF)

But will American drivers fall for the electric Soul? In this video, Fool contributor John Rosevear looks at Kia's goals for its new battery-powered ride -- and at how well it stacks up to the emerging electric-car competition.

A transcript of the video is below.

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John Rosevear: Hey Fools, it's John Rosevear. Kia Motors says that it's about to enter the electric-car wars. The Korean automaker says that it will begin building an all-electric version of its compact Soul model next month.

Kia is a corporate cousin of Hyundai, Hyundai owns 34 percent of Kia and they share many parts and have a joint strategy, this will be the pair's first battery-electric car for export, and yes they'll be bringing it to the U.S.

We don't know the price yet, but we know it'll cost 42 million won in Korea, that's about $39,400 dollars, though in Korea there are big government incentives for electric cars that will make its actual cost to consumers more like half that, around $20,000 dollars or so.So what do you get for this?

Well, like other basic electric cars that we've seen from big global automakers, you get a familiar car, the Kia Soul, with a battery pack and an electric motor. Kia says it'll have a range of about 92 miles, and it can be recharged in about a half hour with a fast charger or about 4 hours with a slow one.

So Tesla Motors is not exactly in danger from this new offering, and in fact Kia isn't expecting anything like the kind of sales volumes that Tesla has seen with its Model S, they say they hope to sell 5,000 of these electric Souls around the world in 2014.

This is interesting in part because it's a little bit of a shift for Hyundai and Kia. Hyundai has just one hybrid and hasn't done a lot with batteries, they've been more focused on hydrogen fuel cells as a way to power electric cars, they're offering a fuel cell version of the Tucson SUV in California and a few other places around the world, and they say that Hyundai will focus more on fuel cells while Kia focuses more on batteries.

So this Kia is more of a conventional electric-car offering, it'll compete with cars like the Nissan Leaf and Ford's Focus Electric, that sort of thing. Really it's probably more like the Focus Electric, it doesn't exist to rack up huge sales numbers, but more to help the automaker gain expertise with the technology and meet regulatory requirements in markets where the rules require automakers to offer a zero emissions vehicle.

And that's good because electric cars haven't been racking up huge sales numbers, even Tesla, they sold around 22,450 Model Ss last year, that's a lot but it's not, it's about the number of Fusions that Ford would sell in a slow month in the U.S.

The problem is that batteries remain heavy and expensive, which means that only big expensive cars like the Teslas get range comparable to a gas-powered car, and charging stations are still few and far between. So it's interesting that Kia is stepping into this market, but there's nothing too radical about the electric Soul and I don't expect it to make a big impact. Thanks for watching, and Fool on.

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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